Group wants meeting with Kerry before State Dept. genocide findings

People gather in late April in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to protest the killing of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians by Islamic State militants in Libya. A group of 30 Christian leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, has asked for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of the State Department's declaration of genocides taking place around the world. (CNS photo/Solan Kolli, EPA)

People gather in late April in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to protest the killing of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians by Islamic State militants in Libya. A group of 30 Christian leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, has asked for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of the State Department’s declaration of genocides taking place around the world. (CNS photo/Solan Kolli, EPA)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A group of 30 Christian leaders, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, has asked for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of the State Department’s declaration of genocides taking place around the world.

The group believes Middle East Christians should be included in any listing of genocide victims based on their treatment by the Islamic State, commonly called ISIS.

“We recently learned that a State Department finding is imminent that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidis,” an Iraqi ethnic group that traces its origins to biblical times, said the Dec. 4 letter to Kerry. “We would wholeheartedly endorse that finding, but we are deeply troubled by the prospect that the department’s statement will either omit or reserve judgment on whether ISIS is committing genocide against Christians” in the Nineveh area since summer 2014.

One reason given for the State Department not counting Christians as genocide victims, according to the letter, is that it “lacks sufficient information about the experience of the Christian communities in Ninevah during that time to conclude that genocide took place.”

Meeting with Kerry, the letter said, would allow the signers “to present the available evidence of ongoing genocidal acts against Christians in Syria and Iraq at a level where it can be considered before a finding is made.”

Another reason is a press report indicating that “unlike Yazidis, ISIS gives Christians a ‘choice’: They can convert to Islam, pay an Islamic tax, or be killed, enslaved, tortured or held hostage. The implication is that ISIS abides by traditional Islamic sharia, under which other ‘people of the book’ — Christians and Jews — pay a tax in exchange for protection by their Muslim rulers,” the letter said. “We would like the opportunity to explain why this is emphatically not the case.”

The letter said, “The world recoiled when it learned that ISIS jihadis had stamped Christian homes in Mosul with the red letter ‘N’ for “Nazarene” in summer 2014, but the elimination of Christians in other towns and cities in Iraq and Syria began long beforehand. ISIS genocidal campaign against Christians continues today, with hundreds of Christians remaining in ISIS captivity, and with summary executions, including by beheadings and crucifixions, occurring as recently as only a few months ago.”

It added, “Pope Francis has called ISIS’ crimes against Christians by their proper name: ‘genocide.’ The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Christian leaders in the Middle East have done so as well. We agree, and are hopeful that, once you have seen the evidence, you will too.”

In arguing for a meeting, the letter said it was “critically important that the State Department consider the best available evidence before making any official pronouncement that rejects allegations that Christian are, along with Yazidis, targets of ongoing genocidal acts.”

Other Catholic signatories to the letter include Chaldean Bishops Gregory J. Mansour and Sarhad Y. Jammo of the Chaldean eparchies of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, and St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego, respectively; Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus; former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon, who now teaches at Harvard Law School; and Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University.

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